For my next Glasgow Comic Con small press showcase, I’m taking a look at the SICBA-nominated Beginners Guide To Being Outside by Gill Hatcher. Shamefully, I’ve not been particularly aware of any of Gill’s previous work, although after reading this subtle yet powerful tale of a young girl being introduced to the beauty of nature, I can all but guarantee that’s going to change from now on.
This all-ages story centres on Megan, a fourteen year old girl who – like most teenagers – finds herself almost completely dependent on technology. When she finds herself forced into a family trip with her mother and stepfather to the Scottish Highlands, the lack of phone signal leads to her connecting with nature in a whole new way, and using the beauty and tranquillity of her surroundings to help her through a difficult time in her young life.
The Beginners Guide To Being Outside is an intimate, straightforward story which – rather than relying on dramatic twists and turns – keeps things remarkably restrained and utterly believable. Megan is a relatable character to anyone who has managed to make it through their tricky teenage years; grumpy, disinterested and permanently glued to her phone and tablet. The family issues that led to her mother and father no longer being together are touched upon briefly, but never overdone, making this story more about Megan herself than her parents and their problems..
Gill also provides the artwork here, and while it is undeniably basic, there’s definitely something to be said about the simplicity of the approach she’s chosen. Without appearing to be patronising, it almost feels like a children’s book; a helpful guide to youngsters who may be going through the same issues as Megan, and a gentle plea on the part of Hatcher for children and teenagers to look up from their phones and take a moment to enjoy the beauty of their surroundings.
However, rather than becoming a preachy, ‘technology is bad!’ rant, Gill cleverly decides to intertwine the world of gadgets with the world of nature by providing Megan with an app that allows her to take photographs of animals and birds and learn more about them on her phone. This is obtained during a humorous moment when, upon being given a book on local wildlife by her mother, Megan simply scans the QR code on the back for the app before tossing it to one side. Which is pretty much exactly what most people her age would do. I mean, who reads books anymore, right?
Wisely, Hatcher avoids slipping into melodrama with the story’s resolution. Rather than having some contrived epiphany and resolving to change her ways forever, Megan’s development is a far more subtle. During a tender, awkward exchange with her mother, they both share a beautiful moment of natural beauty, and without anything else being said, we get the genuine impression that things are going to be a little bit easier for both of them moving forwards. Which is more than enough of a resolution for this particular reader.
Overall, The Beginners Guide To Being Outside is a thoughtfully written book that overcomes what could be perceived as ‘rough’ artwork to make a genuine – and hopefully lasting – impression on the reader. Sometimes we do need to look up from our tablets and phones and take a moment to soak in some of the beauty that surrounds us, particularly those of us living in Scotland. And usually, whether we realise it at the time, things are never quite as bad as they seem. Well worth a look, and utterly deserving of its two SICBA nominations (Best Comic/Graphic Novel and Best Writer).
You can also keep up to date on the latest news regarding this title via the Avery Hill Publishing Website.
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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